Eye on Extremism: May 26, 2020

The Jerusalem Post: Islamic State Says It Was Behind Blast In Southern Libya

“Islamic State said on Monday it was behind a blast in a small town in southern Libya on Saturday, the militant group's first attack in the country for at least a year. The blast targeted a security point at the entrance to Taraghin, 780 km (590 miles) south of Tripoli, but did not cause any casualties, a resident said. A local military commander, Abdesselam Shanqala, said the explosives were concealed in a vehicle belonging to the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) and there were no casualties. An LNA military source said Islamic State was growing more active in the south after the arrest of one of its commanders. The last attack in Libya that Islamic State said it was responsible for took place in May last year on a pipeline in the south. The group became active in Libya after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and it took control of the coastal city of Sirte in 2015 but lost it in late 2016 to local forces backed by US airstrikes.”

Al Jazeera: Afghan President Pledges To Release Up To 2,000 Taliban Prisoners

“Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has started the process to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a “goodwill gesture”, his spokesperson said, in a move that came after the government welcomed the armed group's surprise announcement of a three-day ceasefire during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. The decision to release the prisoners was taken “to ensure success of the peace process”, Ghani's spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter on Sunday. Meanwhile, the ceasefire appeared to hold as there were no reports of clashes between the Taliban and Afghan forces by the end of the first day on Sunday. Ghani said a government delegation was “ready to immediately start the peace talks” with the Taliban. Government negotiators would be headed by Ghani's former rival Abdullah Abdullah after the two signed a power-sharing deal last week that ended a months-long political crisis. A US-Taliban agreement signed in February in Qatar's capital, Doha, stipulated that the Afghan government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the Taliban would free about 1,000 Afghan security forces personnel. The prisoner swap was mentioned in the agreement as a “confidence-building measure” before long-awaited peace talks between the government and Taliban.”

Los Angeles Times: Role Of Extremist Groups At California Lockdown Protests Raises Alarms

“On Saturday afternoon, Pastor John DeBow watched with pride as his daughter defied social distancing edicts at the state Capitol by giving free haircuts to some of the people from across California who had gathered again to protest remaining restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus. He was unaware that, a few yards away, a contingent of Proud Boys, an alt-right organization, had set up a tent attached to the stage. Some members were walking through the crowd in camouflage tactical vests and their trademark black-and-yellow Fred Perry polo shirts.But the Napa religious leader, who has taken to online preaching and plans to continue to honor the state’s ban on in-person church services, said he was unbothered by their presence, though they have been deemed an extremist group. “You are always going to have some radical people in any group whatsoever,” DeBow said. “But because you have a few crazies, you don’t have to get rid of the whole barrel of apples.” In California and across the country, lockdown protests have drawn a melting pot of participants, including peaceful activists such as the DeBows and militias such as the Boogaloo Boys, who have credos that call for civil war, said Brian Levin, professor of criminal justice and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.”

Syria

The New York Times: ISIS Prisoners Threaten U.S. Mission In Northeastern Syria

“A year after American-backed forces seized the last remnant of territory under Islamic State rule in Syria, some 10,000 captured ISIS fighters in Kurdish-run wartime prisons pose “a significant risk” to the United States mission in the country’s northeast, military commanders say. Hardened ISIS fighters protesting the dire conditions in their makeshift confines, including the potential spread of Covid-19, have rioted at the largest prison in Hasaka twice in the last two months. The uprisings were quelled, but they underscore the “high-impact risk of a mass breakout,” American commanders told investigators from the Pentagon inspector general’s office. These findings, contained in the inspector general’s latest quarterly report on the U.S. military missions in Iraq and Syria, issued earlier this month, represent new and alarming warnings for an American counterterrorism mission that already faces renewed attacks from resurgent ISIS guerrillas, pressure from Russian troops supporting the army of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and concerns that the coronavirus could infect their own ranks. These concerns have limited operations of the 500 remaining U.S. troops in northeastern Syria. Only a handful of Covid-19 deaths have been reported in the country’s northeast, and none so far in the prisons.”

The Guardian: Islamic State Is Back And This Time The West Is Ill-Prepared To Take It On

“Over the last two months, Islamic State has carried out a series of large-scale and coordinated attacks in parts of Syria and Iraq. The spike in attacks has renewed fears about the group’s resurgence, a year after the collapse of its physical caliphate in eastern Syria and only six months after the killing of its former leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The heightened activity is especially worrying because the conditions that have made it possible appear set to worsen in the coming months. Isis has never ceased attacks in the two countries since the loss of its territories, but the recent operations are particularly bad news. Aside from the attacks, for example, reports from the ground consistently suggest that the group has had greater visibility and mobility this year in villages and suburbs across Iraq and Syria. The way in which some of the attacks were conducted also indicates that the group has access to information about troop movements and individuals it seeks to target. Such trends are usually early signs that the group has established roots, carved out space for itself and built the infrastructure necessary to launch attacks. This recovery is recent, and follows at least a year of weakness in both countries, due to the loss of Isis centres in Mosul and Raqqa and the intense military campaigns against it.”

Stars And Stripes: Two ISIS Regional Leaders Killed During Joint Raid In Syria, Coalition Says

“A joint raid with Syrian Democratic Forces and members of the U.S.-led coalition in northeastern Syria last week left two Islamic State leaders dead, Operation Inherent Resolve said. The terrorist group’s governor of North Baghdad, known as Abu Ali al-Baghdadi, was killed in Deir al-Zour province on May 17, along with a senior logistics and supply official known as Abu Ammar, the coalition said in a statement Friday. Al-Baghdadi was the nom de guerre of Ahmad Isa Ismail al-Zawi, who was responsible for disseminating guidance from ISIS leaders to operatives in north Baghdad, the coalition said. Ammar, whose real name was Ahmad Abd Muhammad Hasan al-Jughayfi, directed the acquisition and transportation of weapons, bomb materials and personnel across Iraq and Syria, it said. “The removal of these ISIS leaders will disrupt future attacks against innocent civilians and our security partners and in the region,” the statement said. The raid was part of an intensified campaign supported by special operations forces, a defense official said. Green Berets conduct a joint patrol mission near At-Tanf Garrison in Syria in late April alongside partner forces.”

Iraq

The Australian: Resurgent ISIS Launches 260 Attacks During Ramadan

“Islamic State has waged its deadliest terrorism campaign in Iraq for nearly two years, raising fears jihadists are staging a resurgence. In the past month, since the start of Ramadan, Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has claimed responsibility for more than 260 attacks across Iraq, allegedly killing or wounding 426 people. The attacks form part of the group’s self-proclaimed “battle of attrition” campaign, which also has inspired violence by Islamic State branches in Syria, Egypt, Nigeria, Niger, Congo and Mozambique in recent weeks. The US-led military coalition and local security forces say they have mounted a counter-offensive that resulted in the killing of two senior Islamic State leaders in Syria last week. However, the rise in attacks across the Middle East and Africa will raise concerns that jihadist sleeper cells could regroup and capitalise on the disrup­­tion caused by the corona­virus pandemic and its economic aftershocks as US troops are poised to withdraw from regional bases. US President Donald Trump and others had claimed in February that Islamic State was “100 per cent defeated” with the loss of its former territory and the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, its founder, last October... Analysts said that the rate of Isis-linked security incidents in the past two weeks was the highest in Iraq since June 2018. Josh Lipowsky, of the US-based Counter Extremism Project, said: “Isis views the global pandemic as an opportunity to weaken its enemies.”

The Telegraph: Islamic State Bombs Disguised As Video Game Controllers Uncovered In Iraq

“Islamic State scattered video game controllers set to explode at the push of a button in Yazidi homes as they were expelled from Iraq, a new film about the persecuted group’s brave minesweepers has revealed. A photograph seen by the Telegraph shows a controller that, had it been picked up by a child and played with, would have detonated four bombs and destroyed the house where it was found, in northern Iraq. It is one of a series of bombs disguised as household items unveiled in a new film covering the tense work of Yazidi minesweepers in Iraq. The documentary, Into the Fire, follows Hana Khider, a Yazidi woman and team leader from the Mines Advisory Group charity. “The controller was in a house in Sinjar district and was attached to four large explosive charges placed around the building, enough to completely destroy the house,” Jonathan Caswell, a...”

Afghanistan

The New York Times: How The Taliban Outlasted A Superpower: Tenacity And Carnage

“Under the shade of a mulberry tree, near grave sites dotted with Taliban flags, a top insurgent military leader in eastern Afghanistan acknowledged that the group had suffered devastating losses from American strikes and government operations over the past decade. But those losses have changed little on the ground: The Taliban keep replacing their dead and wounded and delivering brutal violence. “We see this fight as worship,” said Mawlawi Mohammed Qais, the head of the Taliban’s military commission in Laghman Province, as dozens of his fighters waited nearby on a hillside. “So if a brother is killed, the second brother won’t disappoint God’s wish — he’ll step into the brother’s shoes.” It was March, and the Taliban had just signed a peace deal with the United States that now puts the movement on the brink of realizing its most fervent desire — the complete exit of American troops from Afghanistan. They have outlasted a superpower through nearly 19 years of grinding war. And dozens of interviews with Taliban officials and fighters in three countries, as well as with Afghan and Western officials, illuminated the melding of old and new approaches and generations that helped them do it.”

BBC News: Afghanistan: Taliban Announce Three-Day Eid Ceasefire With Government

“The Taliban have announced a ceasefire with the Afghan government that will take effect when the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr begins on Sunday. It follows a rise in attacks by the hardline Islamist group against government troops in recent weeks. President Ashraf Ghani welcomed the announcement, and said his soldiers would respect the terms of the truce. The three-day ceasefire is likely to raise hopes of a longer-term reduction in violence in the country. But a similar ceasefire was announced for the same festival in 2018 and was not extended. “Do not carry out any offensive operations against the enemy anywhere. If any action is taken against you by the enemy, defend yourself,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Saturday. He added that the ceasefire had been declared solely for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. President Ghani welcomed the announcement and said he had instructed the military to comply. In a televised address from the presidential palace after Eid prayers, he said: “As a responsible government, we also want to take another step forward. “I announce that the release of the Taliban prisoners will be accelerated and serious measures will be taken.”

Lebanon

France 24: 20 Years On, Israel's Lebanon Pullout Inspires New Hezbollah Recruits

“Jalal was barely three years old when Israeli troops withdrew from Lebanon two decades ago, but he speaks fondly of the Hezbollah “victory” that shaped his allegiance to the Shiite group. “I feel honour and pride in this historic victory,” said the 23-year-old who was brought up on stories of Hezbollah-led guerrilla operations leading to the Israeli pullout. Founded in 1982 with backing from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah touts the 2000 pullout as the first Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab land under military pressure. Today Hezbollah, which means “Party of God”, is both a militant group with involvement in several regional countries and a major political force in Lebanon. The group remains an archfoe of Israel. Its military wing is blacklisted as a “terrorist” organisation by many Western governments but, to the dismay of Israel and its close ally the United States, its political wing is blacklisted by rather fewer. Twenty years after the Israeli withdrawal, Hezbollah still enjoys wide support among Lebanese youth who grew up with tales of the Shiite group heroically ending 22 years of Israeli occupation. Also popular for its social services helping the poor, it continues to leverage the memory of this era to mould a new generation of loyalists gearing up to join its regional operations.”

Middle East

Arab News: Al Jazeera Continues To ‘Provide A Platform To Bigoted And Violent Extremists’

“Al Jazeera’s recent interview with terrorist-designated group Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh, as well as its podcast glorifying killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, has stirred the ongoing debate surrounding the network’s alleged promotion of terrorism. The exposure given to the controversial figures has prompted experts into stating that the station and news site continue to provide extremists with a platform to present themselves on. “The fact that Qatar’s Al Jazeera Arabic continues to provide a platform to bigoted and violent extremists, including terrorists, obviously undermines the Qatari government’s claim to be a steady force for tolerance and coexistence,” Washington director for international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, David Weinberg, told Arab News. The station’s interview with Haniyeh served as a stage to threaten Israel with the fact that Hamas was still capable of kidnapping more Israeli soldiers, while the podcast allowed the Soleimani character a free rein to explain his support of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and why he helped Syrian President Bashar Assad massacre his own people. These were not the only controversies the network found itself embroiled in this month.”

The Jerusalem Post: Attempted Stabbing Attack In Jerusalem, Terrorist Shot

“An attempted stabbing attack occurred on Monday in Jerusalem at the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood. The terrorist had been reportedly shot in the stomach as he attempted to stab an Israeli police officer. There are no other injuries reported as the terrorist was treated in critical condition by medics at the spot.”

Egypt

Arab News: Egyptian Forces Kill 21 Militants In North Sinai

“Egyptian security forces killed 21 suspected militants in North Sinai, part of a group that the interior ministry said was planning attacks over the Eid holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, state television reported on Saturday. Two officers were wounded in an exchange of fire during the operation, according to a ministry statement cited in the report, which did not say when the operation took place. Eid begins on Sunday. Militants loyal to Daesh are active in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, where Egypt has been battling an insurgency for years.”

Nigeria

Daily Post Nigeria: Boko Haram: Terrorists Raze Down 90 Houses, Church, Shops In Borno

“Reports from Biu local government area of Borno State, northeast Nigeria, on Monday evening, revealed that suspected Boko Haram fighters have attacked three villages, bringing down houses, shops and places of worship. DAILY POST reports that residents of the areas said about 90 residential houses, a Church, Clinic, 9 shops, and other properties worth millions of naira were destroyed during the attack. The District Head of the area, Alh Mohammad Maina Bukar while briefing the Borno State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Umar Usman Kadafur, who paid a sympathy visit to the affected communities, said they have lost source of livelihoods as a result of the attack. The communities blamed the attack on lack of telecommunications network in the area. They, however, informed the deputy governor that local hunters repelled the attacks and succeeded in killing three members of the insurgents, while one resident sustained a bullet wound. “There was no civilian casualty,” they said. The district head said, “The insurgents stormed the villages at about 6:30 pm to 10:25 pm simultaneously; they burnt down 90 residential Houses, 9 shops, 1 church, 1 dispensary/Clinic, 1 tractor and carted away essential commodities, as well as food items.”

Africa

Arab News: Ivory Coast, Burkina Offensive To Flush Out Extremists

“Troops from Ivory Coast and neighboring Burkina Faso have launched an operation in northern Ivory Coast to flush out extremists from their border, military officials said Saturday. The offensive, named Comoe after a river that flows through the two West African countries, is underway and has “produced results,” an Ivorian source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “At the initiative of the Ivorian army, an anti-terrorist operation has been on for several days at the border and led to the seizure of weapons,” a Burkinabe security source said. The sources did not give any figures. “Burkina Faso is taking part with 30 men, most of whom have been posted along the border,” to prevent insurgents from fleeing Ivory Coast, where the operation is being conducted, the source said. “There is no way of avoiding the two armies,” said Burkina Faso’s chief of army staff General Moise Miningou during a meeting with his Ivorian counterpart in Ivory Coast on Friday. “It’s this which has produced tangible results. This is just a first step and I assure you it won’t be the last,” he added. The operation was launched at the start of May in the northeastern region of Ferkessedougou, sources said.”

Egypt Today: Sudan Arrests Local, Egyptian Members Of Terror Cell Affiliated To Muslim Brotherhood

“Sudanese Public Prosecutor Mawlana Taj al-Ser al-Hebr announced Friday that interrogations with local and Egyptian members of a terror cell affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood had started. The Sudanese police had arrested the elements last week in the Eastern Nile District and found at their acquisition various types of arms and documents of explosions they planned to carry out in Khartoum and Cairo. Sudanese authorities revealed that one of the elements had confessed that the cell was operating upon the orders of the International Muslim Brotherhood Order with the aim of destabilizing both countries. The element is an Egyptian national who entered Sudanese authorities by a fake Syrian passport. He is specialized in manufacturing explosives and was brought to Sudan with two others. The Muslim Brotherhood is banned in Egypt, and many of its members are on terror lists.”

United Kingdom

The Guardian: Isis Fighter Britons Could Be Charged Over ‘Conflict Selfies’

“Prosecutors have revealed that Britons who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq could be charged over “conflict selfies” – posing with the dead, a particularly grisly habit of many fighters who joined the group. A number of British Isis recruits posted pictures of themselves on social media alongside bodies or holding decapitated heads, images that prosecutors say depict the “inhumane treatment” of the deceased. Convictions remain low among the approximately 400 British fighters who have returned from Syria, leaving prosecutors to examine increasingly inventive ways to charge Isis members. So far just 40 individuals have been prosecuted following their return, partly because of the complexities in retrieving evidence from the battlefield. A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that selfies taken in Syria could form a separate charge if evidence supported it. Last month Isis recruit Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, from London, who infamously posed with a severed human head in Syria and who was once accused of being Isis executioner Jihadi John, was arrested in Spain after making it out of the Middle East. Another high-profile Isis member, Imran Khawaja, who posted an image of himself holding a severed head on social media, was later accused of faking his own death in Syria in an attempt to return home undetected.”

Germany

Deutsche Welle: Over 100 'Islamic State' Fighters Return To Germany

“Germany's Interior Ministry said Sunday that over 100 members of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) terrorist group have returned to the country following the jihadi networks failed incursions in Iraq and Syria. “Security authorities obtained knowledge that they actively engaged in combat in Syria and Iraq or have completed apprenticeships to this end,” the ministry told the DPA news agency. “These people remain under police and judicial investigation.” The ministry added that the number of open investigations is in the “two-figure range.” Authorities believe that 1,060 IS fighters left Germany for Syria or Iraq, of which a third have since returned, the Interior Ministry said. German authorities are taking a “holistic approach” to the handling of the returnees, which besides criminal prosecution includes deradicalization and reintegration, according to the ministry. Several suspected German IS members are believed to be in custody in Iraq, Syria or Turkey. Turkish authorities have called on Germany and other European countries to take back IS suspects, with Turkish Interior Minister Soleyman Solyu saying in November that Turkey is not “a hotel for IS members.” On Thursday, German authorities arrested two women, one of which was a suspected IS member, upon their arrival at Frankfurt Airport from Ankara after they were deported by Turkey.”

Europe

Associated Press: Cyprus To Deport 17 Migrants Suspected Of Terror Links

“Cyprus will deport 17 migrants who are being held on suspicion of having links to extremist groups or involved in acts of terror, the country’s interior ministry said Monday. The men are currently being held in a migrants’ detention facility and their deportation will proceed once commercial air traffic to and from the country is restored after the full lifting of all coronavirus restrictions, the ministry told The Associated Press in a statement. It said intelligence provided by security agencies and law enforcement authorities including Europol and Interpol suggested that the men may have either been implicated in terror activities or belong to extremist groups. The ministry didn’t disclose details about the men, their nationalities, which security agencies provided intelligence and with which groups they may be linked. Cyprus has received about 3,000 asylum-seekers since the start of the year, with most arriving before the lockdown came into effect in late March. The Cypriot government says an influx of migrant arrivals in the past few years has ranked the country among those European Union member states with the highest number of asylum applications relative to their population size.”

China

Reuters: Hong Kong And Beijing Officials Defend Security Laws, Citing Threat Of Terrorism

“China’s foreign ministry office in Hong Kong and the city’s security chief on Monday defended proposed national security laws by describing some acts in mass pro-democracy protests last year as terrorism. Several government departments issued statements in defence of the proposal after the biggest protest in the city since the coronavirus lockdown on Sunday. The security legislation, some details of which were announced last week, aims to tackle secession, subversion and terrorist activities and could see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, one of the world’s leading financial hubs. Pro-democracy activists and politicians say the legislation could erode Hong Kong’s freedoms, guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement under which former colonial power Britain returned the territory to China in 1997. At a briefing for diplomats, foreign business chambers and correspondents, China’s Foreign Commissioner in Hong Kong, Xie Feng, said the laws would only target a minority of “troublemakers” who had posed “imminent danger” to China’s national security.”

Southeast Asia

Eurasia Review: Islamic State’s Rejig And Resurgence In South Asia – Analysis

“One year since the Islamic State made low key announcement establishing new provinces in India and Pakistan breaking it from the main branch of Khorasan province in Afghanistan, the group has expanded presence and claimed attacks in all countries of South Asia with Muslim population–Indian Kashmir, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives. As experts warn of IS’ resurgence in Iraq where it is regrouping once again, the group’s lethal attacks in South Asia remain worrying. The pandemic crisis has not detered IS, instead it has upped its ante by carrying strikes on the US air base in Bagram and against the minority groups of Afghan Sikhs and Shias, owning the first attack in the island nation of Maldives and continuing low key attacks in Indian Kashmir. Since February it has launched a new South Asia focussed magazine Voice of Hind— the April edition carried a map of the sub-continent showing the group’s presence/affiliates in 6 regions surrounding India. And released slick videos to attract new followers in India and Maldives. After losing the last territory of model Caliphate in Syria’s Baghuz in March 2019, IS was incentivized to create sustainable presence outside its main battlefield in Levant.”

Technology

Huff Post: Study: White Supremacist Groups Are ‘Thriving’ On Facebook, Despite Extremist Ban

“A new study reported that white supremacist groups are “thriving” on Facebook, despite repeated assurances from the company that it doesn’t allow extremists on its platform. The watchdog group Tech Transparency Project released a study Thursday that found more than 100 white supremacist groups had a presence on Facebook. Project researchers identified 221 white supremacist groups — using information collected by Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, two of America’s most prominent anti-hate organizations — and searched for those groups on Facebook. About 50% of the groups were present on the platform, the study said. Of the 113 white supremacist groups the project found on Facebook, 36% had pages or groups created by active users. The remaining 64% had a page auto-generated by Facebook itself. “With millions of people now quarantining at home and vulnerable to ideologies that seek to exploit people’s fears and resentments about COVID-19, Facebook’s failure to remove white supremacist groups could give these organizations fertile new ground to attract followers,” TTP’s study said.”